“Wow! That was a great meeting!”
On just about any day in the United States, more than 25 million business meetings are conducted. By design or choice, we allocate vast time to meet with one and other. For many, about one-third of 2017 will be spent in meetings, and for managers and leaders, it’s likely that meetings will consume at least half of the year. If historical trends persist, we will also spend more time meeting with others than we did in the past.
We must love meeting — right?
Sadly, many feel and think that most meetings are ineffective, and, more often than not, a waste of time. The consequences of poor meetings, both financial and personal, can be avoided or minimized through five areas of practice. Applied throughout the year, these five practices will contribute to personal and team effectiveness, and leave you and others saying “Wow, that was a great meeting.”
Balance Abundance and Scarcity
Time is a precious and variable resource in organizations. Some colleagues are, or feel, overwhelmed while others resort to watching paint dry on walls. These opposite behaviors can also be produced by the quality of your meetings. While you might be hesitant to establish a relationship between personal productivity and meeting behaviors, the interconnection is also evident in observing post-meeting communications. Some linger, some can’t wait to flee, and surely some debrief and comment on what occurred in the meeting. We’re challenged to blend meeting time with action time. We want the right number of meetings for our task — not too many, not to few, but rather the optimal amount. The challenges associated with getting it “just right” depend on intent and skill.
Intent refers to meeting purpose, agenda, and outcomes. Skill refers to the behaviors in preparing, leading, concluding, and acting on decisions. Combined with abilities to accurately “read” an organization or group, intent and skill contribute to effective collaboration and teamwork, and both are the skillful time-balancing.
The scope of the work or project should define the frequency, pace, and tempo of meetings. Some meetings are best held as five-minute face-to-face discussions, either electronically or in person, while other topics will require multiple or standing regular meetings. If time is an abundant yet finite resource, successful meeting leaders effectively balance abundance with practicality, adroitly investing and measuring how time spent in meetings contributes to purpose. The best meeting leaders regularly review meeting cadences and formats, adjusting to participant and organizational needs.
Prepare to Participate
Effective meeting participants prepare. While meeting leaders, organizers, and participants have differing roles relative to preparation, sustainable positive morale and organizational outcomes requires preparation. Preparation shows our care for the task, those at hand, and other stakeholders.
Too many meetings begin with participants going to the end of a presentation deck to read a speaker’s conclusions or recommendations. When this behavior is pervasive in some meeting cultures, it may signal lack of interest or respect for the presenter who has invested energy and time into the presentation. Meaningful and thoughtful conversations ensue when participants ask about different pages in the deck, not mechanically, but with a view towards understanding. The possibilities for open and authentic conversation and discussion increases with preparation.
Preparation takes many forms. Preparation is demonstrated with pre-meeting inquiries, ranging from the seemingly informal to structured questionnaires and focus groups. Preparation can also happen at different stages or points in a meeting cycle – even during the meeting itself when actions and decisions are both recapped and noted.
In addition, preparation attends to other aspects of meeting. There is often preparation associated with technology. For many, there is no other greater time sink than those minutes spent adjusting for technology — phones, screens, and other tools. Establishing expertise and providing effective tools is critical to creating environments that foster and stimulate contribution.
Know Your Place
Have you noticed that individuals tend to take the same seat in recurring meeting places? The reasons individuals take the “same” seat can be complex, but typically concern recognition and status. In part, you and I sit in the same chair during meetings because we want others to remember who we are and, we want to avoid re-negotiating territory. Shifts in seating arrangements may result in anxiety and discomfort. Knowing your place, in these practices for outstanding meetings, must not be confused with conventional notions of accepting any particular role as defined by structured social or organizational inequality.
For successful meeting leaders and attendees, knowing your place means having confidence in your knowledge and role within a meeting. Knowledge is demonstrated through effective preparation and by marshaling your experience or unique point of view to each topic. It is, in part, the zenith of inclusion practices, to confidently accept yourself as the person you are and that you are becoming.
Our challenge in meetings is to bring more of who we are to the topic and to what we do. This is an opportunity to bring our best, whether in the role of organizer, participant, or leader. Roles may be further conditioned by expertise, topic, or some other social exchanges. Role knowledge increases confidence and facilitates interactions with others.
The most effective meetings emphasize interaction over reporting. Well-designed meetings do more than inform; well-designed meetings contribute to action. It’s one thing to tell others what to do during a meeting — and at times, this can be appropriate — and it is entirely something else to involve others. Involvement creates commitment and ownership of results and outcomes.
Those working in large organizations may experience the greatest need in this regard. While research reports that most US-based business meetings typically involve between five and eight people, it can be unsettling to consider the involvement of many others. In designing effective meetings, existing technologies effectively can support the involvement of hundreds and thousands in single-event meetings. Interaction promotes the common wisdom that two heads are better than one.
When you are in charge, you have a choice to involve others, and the extent to which you involve others. This requires clarity on meeting outcomes — are you involving others in decision-making or in implementation — or both? Clarity in this regard will assist interaction as involving people in decision-making differs from involving others in plan execution. Regardless of outcome, a meeting the promotes interaction over compliance can produce extraordinary results. Out time is too precious, too valuable, to be squandered in events where speakers drone and conversation doesn’t occur. For meetings that are mere channels to information, consider alternative arrangements to deliver those materials to preserve the importance and significance of your meetings.
Engagement is Unending
Some meetings are one-time events, never to be repeated. Other meetings maintain a cadence, and while most come to an end at some time-designated conclusion, relationships outlive the clock. Because others observe our behaviors and actions, it’s essential to invite engagement — that means paying attention to those in front of you. As a consequence, every meeting presents opportunities for immediate and long-lasting engagement. Regardless of frequency, every meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate your genuine and authentic interest in others. This will mean, for some, shutting down a laptop or ignoring a mobile device. In addition, it might require adding new behaviors — asking questions, inviting dissent, and encouraging collaboration, for example.
There is a relationship between meeting leader and meeting participant behaviors. During meetings, it’s important to encourage others to speak, to bring a point of view to the discussion. Encouraging others to speak should not be confused with putting others on the spot. In addition, meetings can provide the perfect venue for providing direction and guidance, particularly for those who are feedback-hungry. There are many techniques to foster contribution, and effective meeting leaders regularly practice and improve on these techniques, raising the important of meetings.
It’s also important to maintain your balance and to “keep your cool” during meetings. At times, our agreement or disagreement with attendees will cause us to behave and to react in ways that discourage or shutdown conversation. Rarely is this desirable, but it does not mean that the meeting leader should ignore emotions. Rather, the leader needs to develop and maintain emotional intelligence in meeting and working with others.
Wow! That was a great meeting!
Nearly every day this year, you’ll have an opportunity to create meetings that produce the WOW response. Even slight improvements in meeting behaviors and intents can contribute to the reduction of lost or wasted time in organizations. These improvements will contribute to meaningful, relevant, and productive work, benefiting innovation, customers, and those with whom we have the good fortune of creating and sustaining groups and organizations where people do their best work.
How will you “meet” in 2017? What comment or improvements can you share in the comments section? I’m anxious consider and to further explore this topic with you!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Horne is an executive developing great places to work, building groups into teams, and helping leaders to achieve and to succeed. A regular presenter to preeminent Human Resources and Organization Development associations, Mike also writes extensively on